Thursday, September 26, 2013

Continuing Series, Part 4: A Critical Analysis of the "Doctors in Training" at the helm of D181 and their Questionable Qualifications – The Director of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction)

Dawn Benaitis is D181's Director of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction). 

Just before Dawn Benaitis was hired as Principal of Monroe School in 2011, she served as a K-2  elementary school principal in Antioch, IL, which is a small town very much unlike that of communities that feed into District 181. (Click to open Benaitis Resume.) After serving just two years as principal at Monroe, Ms Benaitis was promoted in June 2013 to oversee district-wide assessment, despite the fact she had little to no experience (academically or job based) dealing with the complexities of testing, measurement, and interpretation of results. Of equal importance is the fact that Monroe School's MAP test results showed grade upon grade of under performing students. (Click to open MAP assessment report and scroll to Pages 38 and 39 for Monroe results.) The results are among the lowest in the district (Click to open 6/10/2013 Blog Post on MAP data.), and this was evident under Benaitis' watch. 

What is most concerning about the fact Ms Benaitis was promoted despite Monroe School's poor MAP results, is that she is now officially responsible for analyzing test results for the entire district. Monroe is the largest school in the district, and barely 50% of the students are achieving the growth targets on the MAP test. In fact, just 40% of third graders met the growth targets in reading for the 2012-2013 MAP test. This is in addition to the last year's poor MAP math test results for last year's third graders. We wonder: will Ms Benaitis have the knowledge base to monitor and assess the current fourth grade performance district wide, not to mention all the other grades? 

With the implementation of the Common Core curriculum this year, along with one additional year of math acceleration in all grades, it will be challenging for Ms Benaitis to consistently monitor, evaluate, analyze, and interpret test results, and determine

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Current D181 BOE Majority Incapable of Upholding Utopian Principles; A Response to The Critics

Last week’s Hinsdalean published a letter written by two community members who agreed with Pam Lannom’s commentary (in the 9/5 edition) attacking Board Member Heneghan.  While we certainly welcome and respect the right of everyone to voice their political opinions, we take issue with the critics' characterization of “past” boards as the model that should be followed.  Their letter states:

“[t]he boards [Lannom] describes did not organize themselves in a perpetually aggressive stance of surveillance.  Mature, reflective board members understood their purpose: to hire a stable staff of capable administrators whom they respect, trust and join – not supplant – to create a place that both attracts educators at the top of their game (such educators actually are not fungible) and instills in the children who walk into that place sophisticated knowledge, values reflective of our nation’s heritage and an enduring capacity to use their minds fully.  This remains the big picture.”

Unfortunately, the “vision” they have of this utopian board does not fit within the reality of what is actually going on right now in D181, or even what happened in the past.

1.     In our opinion, with the exception of a few board members, the majority of the current board members are not reflective.  They appear to serve only as rubber stamps for whatever the administration presents.  This may be explained by their possible lack of preparation and “reflection” given to the board materials prior to the meetings.  First case in point:  During the last board meeting (9/9/13), Board President Marty Turek, referring to his review of the annual ISAT data presentation included in the Board docs for that meeting, stated “I hope my boss isn’t listening because I read it today at work.”   His “admission” was greeted with laughter by some of his fellow board members and administrators.  We assume board members receive their meeting materials via Board Docs the weekend before a Monday meeting so they have time to review and prepare (since the community can access them on Saturday mornings).  We know from past board discussions that members are urged to submit questions they have to the superintendent by Monday morning.  How reflective can a board member be– in particular the board president –when he waits until the day of the meeting to review the materials, and then does it while he is supposed to be working? Second case in point:  Board members who don’t attend meetings.  We won’t rehash our commentaries on Michael Nelson’s dismal attendance record, except to state that if you don’t attend, you can’t really represent the constituents who elected you.

Correct Spelling and Grammar Should be the Expectation from D181 Administrators

The Learning For All Plan purports to promise increased rigor and acceleration for all D181 students, ensuring their college readiness and real world skills.  Topping that list should be their ability to spell and use correct grammar. If this is the expectation for our students, it should be modeled by the administrators running the Department of Learning.  Sadly, it is not.

This morning, we began reading the material posted on Board Docs for the 9/23/13 board meeting.  We were shocked to find a glaring spelling/grammar mistake in the first line of a one page memo.  (Click to Open Memo.)        

This memo, titled "Special Education Proportionate Share Funds" was prepared by the "Department of Learning."  The "Contacts" (authors) are identified as Kevin Russell, Kurt Schneider, Dawn Benaitis and Christine Igoe.   The first line of the memo states:  "All local educational agencies are required to utilize a portion of there Federal Part B..."      

The word "there" is used incorrectly.  The correct word to use would have been "their."

Call us nit-picky, but is it too much to expect that one page memos signed by all four Department of Learning Administrators -- Schneider, Russell, Igoe and Benaitis -- be carefully reviewed for basic spelling and grammar mistakes before they are released to the D181 community?  With their combined yearly salaries and benefits totaling over $635,000, this kind of sloppiness or lack of knowledge is unacceptable.  (See the D181 Administrators' Salaries page on this blog and the Salary and Benefits report posted on the 9/23/13 Board Docs.)  With four high level administrators (many of whom also have assistants and secretaries) putting their name on the memo, we should expect that all four would have reviewed it prior to its publication and that at least one of them would have caught the mistake.  Why didn't they?

P.S.:  We want to thank the administrator who read this blog post and corrected the spelling/grammar mistake.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The "New Clothes Parade" Goes National

Looks like the "new clothes parade" is now going national.  Check out the following link:

This is for a national TASH conference that Kurt Schneider, Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Pupil Services) is going to be presenting at in Chicago on December 12.  (According to its website, TASH is an organization that promotes equity, opportunity and Inclusion for people with Disabilities.)

The TASH conference website describes Schneider's session as:

Research and implementation efforts necessary to create systemically united high performing schools for ALL students of all abilities at all organizational levels in a school district. Grounded in the non-negotiable principles of inclusive schooling from Capper & Frattura (2009), participants will learn how to move a school district systematically forward and share the improved student achievement results that occur as a result.”

This is the same 4-day conference (December 11 – 14) that Dr. Schuster explained at the 9/9/13 Board Meeting that Schneider and other administrators, teachers and parents are going to attend.

As Concerned Parents, we are fine with the head of the special education department (Schneider) attending special education conferences, and perhaps even presenting at them.  However, our problem with this particular conference is that his presentation seems to be about the Learning for All Plan that is being rolled out in D181 for ALL students, and we wouldn’t be surprised if D181 will serve as the “data” source for any research that is presented at this conference by Schneider.  The description says it all:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Cautionary Modern Day Tale: "The District's New Clothes"

At last Monday’s (9/9/13) Board Meeting, the Administration presented a “report” on the 2013 Spring ISAT data.  We would encourage you to all listen to the meeting podcast available on the D181 website because when we did, we were stunned to hear the administration and board of education members “celebrate” the ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) results, spin a web of excuses for why student performance had declined, justify them by essentially trashing past administrations, the past educational model and teaching methodology and proclaiming that the new “Learning For All Plan” is “the Answer.”

That meeting, and others that preceded it, remind us of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale  “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Well here in D181 Concerned Parent land, we think there is a similar tale to be told and we have called it “The District’s New Clothes. 

Once upon a time there was a high achieving school District. The District had everything going for it – great teachers, great students, supportive parents. The “clothes weaved” by the administration -- the programs and services offered to all students (including Special Education students) – were among the very best taxes could buy. People flocked from all around to move into the towns feeding into the District because they wanted their children to be educated in one of the very best districts.  Yes, the properties were expensive, and so were the property taxes.  Yes, teachers were amongst the highest paid in the state.  But all that was okay because everyone saw the fruits of their labors. Most students flourished and student performance excelled. The student performance in the District was ranked among the very best one could find in Illinois when evaluated by the standardized tests given to all districts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lack of Transparency Forces Community Member to File a Request for Review with Attorney General's Public Access Counselor

This morning we received a comment with a suggested post from community member Yvonne Mayer.  She informed us that she had been forced to file a Request for Review with the Attorney General's Public Access Counselor this morning, after D181 denied her a copy of the audio-tape of the August 21 Board Sub-Committee Meeting tasked with developing the SMART Goals.  She provided us with a copy of the appeal.

We reviewed it and agree that it is in the community's best interest to realize the lack of transparency shown by the Administration and Board of Education in denying her request.  Therefore, we agreed to post the Request for Review for everyone to read.  Click to Open the Request for Review.

The Request for Review speaks for itself.  What has happened to transparency in D181?

(Note:  We also confirmed that D86 not only records -- by video, no less --  committee and Board meetings, but posts them for everyone in the community to access.  Click to Open D86 Video Archive. That is what transparency is all about!  It would serve D181 well if they would follow this example.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Continuing Series, Part 3: A Critical Analysis of the "Doctors in Training" at the helm of D181 and their Questionable Qualifications – The Director of Learning (Pupil Services)

Christine Igoe is D181's Director of Learning (Pupil Services). 

Since joining District 181 in April 2010 as a building level special education coordinator (PPS administrator) for Madison and Hinsdale Middle Schools, Ms. Igoe has rapidly risen to become the administrator in charge of Pupil Services/Special Education with the newly added major task of providing Common Core Math units to this year's math program. How she has managed to become a leading contributor to the "Advanced Learning Plan" (now referred to as the "Learning for All Plan") remains a mystery in that Ms. Igoe does not appear to have the educational background nor the qualifications to be advising on general curriculum issues, especially the infusion of Common Core Math to the Everyday Math Program. The fact is Ms. Igoe's experience in special education prior to coming to D181 was in the form of being a special education teacher or a building level administrator in Plainfield, Naperville and for the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization. It does not appear that she has any background or experience in the areas of math or general curriculum. (Sources: D181 website and the publicly accessible Illinois Teacher Certification system found on the Illinois State Board of Education website.) To now be in charge of the entire special education program and the Math Committee overseeing the math curriculum changes in a district such as 181 is quite a leap, but this appears to be the new norm in D181 where background experience and education seem to matter little in who is promoted within the district.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Week in Review -- Misdirected Attack, Unnecessary Testing? and ISAT Data "Excuses"

As we await the posting on Board Docs of the 9/9/13 Board Meeting Agenda, we wanted to take a moment to comment on some issues that arose this week.

1.  OUTRAGEOUS COMMENTARY ATTACKS BOARD MEMBER HENEGHAN: We wouldn't ordinarily comment on opinions published by news agencies, but we couldn't ignore Editor Pam Lannom's outrageous Commentary in this week's Hinsdalean.  The Commentary attacked Board Member Heneghan's conduct during the last board meeting (8/26/13) calling it "disrespectful and distasteful."  Ms. Lannom goes on to state that she did not attend the meeting.  Well perhaps she should have -- or at least listened to the podcast of the entire meeting.  If she had, she should have realized that Mr. Heneghan was simply doing his job as an elected official, taking it seriously and calling out the administration and fellow board members as was required by the course the discussions took.  She might also have realized that the disrespect and distasteful behavior was not Mr. Heneghan's but that of  Superintendent Schuster and Board Members Turek and Yaeger.